A fight to keep street gardens

Gardening saved many of us during lockdown, now the gardens need us to save them. 

For many of us in urban areas, planting up the nature strip became very popular in lockdown. Street corner plantings or raised planter boxes seemed to pop up with each daily walk. To see new life and people out gardening was a spark of hope in the dullness of pandemic life.

Due to this popularity a Melbourne bayside council area (City of Port Phillip) has written new guidelines in a bid to control this activity. They are currently out for public consultation but this closes on Sunday 13 Feb, so time is running out.

Strong opposition to the guidelines has already resulted in extending the consultation period, and over 5,000 people have signed a petition, but more submissions are needed to stop the guidelines being passed.

A driving force behind this fight is Emma Cutting – the Founder of The Heart Gardening Project, a community initiative that brings humans and nature together through street gardening.

Emma has gone through the guidelines with a fine tooth comb and consulted with a long list of experts from transport and traffic specialists, to conservation scientists and horticulturalists.

The draft guidelines state the key objective is to develop clear processes to enable residents to plant on nature strips but, based on her research, Emma (and many others) believe they are regressive, negative and technical and is asking for a re-write.

“These new guidelines require substantial clearances beside curbs, driveways, trees and all services infrastructure that would prevent many gardens being allowed. Moreover no gardens at all would be permitted on median strips, narrow footpaths, or laneways,” Emma said.

“The new guidelines essentially won’t allow street gardening.”

Emma Cutting, The Heart Gardening Project

In the submission to the council, Emma and The Heart Gardening Project is asking for a re-write of the document as well as the following:

• Appropriate and thorough research and community engagement to be carried out

• The enormous restrictive ‘clearance areas’ to be hugely reduced and/or deleted

• New guidelines to be understandable and clear with a positive, encouraging tone

• Everyone has the opportunity to easily create a street garden, including all residents, renters and business owners.

Further to this group is a project Emma is leading – The Melbourne Pollinator Corridor, an 8km community-driven wildlife corridor that will link 2 large green patches that run along the Birrarung, Westgate Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens. 

This visionary project has come out of street gardening and a collective passion to improve the state of our urban environments. It would not be able to proceed if the draft guidelines are passed. 

Instead of limiting this activity, it would be a visionary move if the Council was to seize the opportunity to work with the community and incorporate it into policy and strategy. 

At the other end of the spectrum, The New York High Line – is a 2.3 km elevated garden was petitioned by neighbourhood residents in 1999. Now it is a major NY attraction.

My saving grace during lockdown, while ‘home-schooling’ two kids was creating a container garden with my neighbours in a disused laneway. Plants and produce in the laneway followed by bees, butterflies and birds gave life to an area which was otherwise stone and concrete.

Under the new guidelines, this activity would not be allowed. 

While public ammenity, accessibility and road safety definitely need to be addressed and included in working out a way forward here, can we find a balance so this wonderful silver lining of the pandemic (and an already passionate community) can further contribute to the many issues our population and planet faces?

While our urban environment suffocates under concrete and bitumen, affecting food and shelter for pollinators, there are so many passionate urban gardeners ready to help and provide solutions to some of today’s biggest issues – nature deficit disorder, environmental degradation, a warming planet and mental health to name a few.

Benefits of street gardens 

• increasing biodiversity

• improving food security

• addressing major urban climate change issues like the heat island effect and water retention/health issues

• improving air pollution and noise pollution bringing our communities together

• creating joy

• increasing property prices

• saving council money

• improving our mental and physical health

• carbon sequestration

It seems like opportunity to make and perpetuate positive change for the community and the planet is staring us in the face but is at very high risk of being reversed if these guidelines get passed.

Hope you can spare a few minutes to have your say.

How can you help?

We need to make enough noise to get the document changed! Deadline is February 13th.

Please..

• write to council through the “Have Your Say” link,

• cc in your councillors

• sign the online petition set up by The Heart Gardening Project 

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